This spring presented one the most powerful and emotional experiences of my tenure as NASSP executive director. Seventeen school leaders who have experienced school shootings gathered at our headquarters in Reston, VA, to share their experiences, discuss recovery, and ideate about how the larger school leadership community can benefit from the wisdom these principals never aspired to gain. It is striking, but not surprising, that each school leader in the now-titled Principal Recovery Network recalls their incident in vivid detail—the exact moment of the attack, the faces of the injured and killed members of the school community, and in some cases, the exchanges with the shooter. Whether the shooting occurred 20 years ago like Columbine High School or 20 months ago like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, each leader is still engaged in their own process of recovery.
At the same time, the shootings they experienced sparked unique insight into the mental health needs of both students and adults in the schools. Those experiences provide them a lens to see the trauma that students carry with them to school each day, which is only compounded by a traumatic event in school. The principals shared that some teachers could simply not continue teaching; that even in affluent areas, health insurance barely makes a dent in mental health expenses; that in rural areas—even if teachers and families could afford ongoing mental health care—there are simply not enough quality providers available. These conditions affect schools in recovery most acutely, but these issues permeate all of our schools. In the coming months, you can anticipate that NASSP will intensify its efforts to understand, inform, advocate, and amplify your voices on the conditions of trauma and the need for mental health supports. Thank you for all your efforts to address students’ obstacles so they can become their best selves.
Executive Director, NASSP